The Host isn’t shy about shamelessly knocking off its inspirations, but it makes for a moderately watchable thriller right up until it doesn’t.
I suspect I enjoyed Andy Newbery’s Hitchcockian thriller The Host a bit more than many will, in part because I’m partial to moody Euro-trash and apparently also to the adventures of British pop-rock band McFly, though that’s purely for ironic reasons. But this film, which starts out as one thing and then quickly becomes another, is difficult to like in its totality. In many ways, it’s a pretty shameless knockoff of rather obvious influences, particularly Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Eli Roth’s Hostel, but it isn’t particularly good at emulating either of those films beyond parroting their more iconic ideas.
Thus, we begin with Robert Atkinson (Mike Beckingham), a London banker who makes woeful decisions in apparently every facet of his life. We meet him being straddled by his boss’s hot wife (Margot Stilley), and things only get worse from there. He nabs fifty large from his workplace and then blows it playing poker at an upscale gambling den populated exclusively by Chinese gangland stereotypes. Confident in his hand, he takes a loan from his unsavory opponent and then loses that, finding himself at the mercy of the sinister Lau (Togo Igawa), who offers to pay his debt and then some just as long as he agrees to transport a briefcase to Amsterdam and return another one full of God-knows-what. Atkinson, who looks and sounds like an older Tom Holland who had a tougher paper round, lacks the necessary charisma to make Robert sympathetic; he’s much more of a self-serving simpleton who makes more terrible choices in a ten-minute span of The Host than most characters do in their entire screentime.
And he isn’t finished there. Boarding a plane to Amsterdam, he’s immediately taken in by the smooth radio-ready tones of DEA agent Herbert Summers (Nigel Barber) and told to continue his Triad assignment in exchange for legal immunity. Then he trips and falls into a different movie. Following an accommodation mixup, he’s taken to a swanky townhouse where the host, Vera (Maryam Hassouni, good here), is running a somewhat unusual operation that I won’t spoil but that you can probably guess the particulars of regardless.
Newbery’s direction is workmanlike but not inefficient; he finds some good angles from which to take in the looming townhouse and its various oddball furnishings. It’s the illogical script by Finola Geraghty, Brendan Bishop, and Laurence Lamers that undermines the enterprise, piling one twist on another until the narrative and tonal shifts are too whiplash-inducing to keep track of. Fittingly for the tame torture-p**n underpinnings of The Host, it’s two movies sewn awkwardly together, but their lack of relationship to each other is awkward at best, and once a midpoint twist brings Robert’s more switched-on brother (Dougie Poynter, McFly’s bassist) into the fold, whatever point the film was attempting to make has long-since been lost. Still, it’s good to see the McFly lads still getting work.